A federally recognized tribe, Sandia Pueblo is one of 19 of New Mexico's Native American pueblos. It is known as one of the state's Eastern Pueblos. Its 500 people are traditionally Tiwa speakers, a language of the Tanoan group,
The Tiwa name for the pueblo is Tuf Shur Tia, or "Green Reed Place", in reference to the green bosque (Spanish: forest). However, older documents claim that the original name of the pueblo was Nafiat, (Tiwa: "Place Where the Wind Blows Dust").
It became known as Sandía (Spanish: "watermelon") in the early 17th century, and possibilities abound as to why. Some claim that a type of squash cultivated there reminded the Spaniards of the melons they knew from the Eastern hemisphere. Others suggest that explorers found an herb called sandía de culebra, or possibly another called sandía de la pasión there.
But the most convincing and most-cited explanation is that the Spanish called the mountain Sandía after viewing it illuminated by the setting sun. The Sandia Mountains have a red appearance to them, and the layer of vegetation gives it a luminous "rind" of green when backlit, giving it the appearance of a sliced watermelon. The village closest to the range took on the name of the mountain, changing from throughout the years from San Francisco de Sandía to Nuestra Señora de los Dolores de Sandía to Nuestra Señoría de los Dolores y San Antonio de Sandía before ending up as simply Sandia Pueblo or Pueblo of Sandia.
The Pueblo culture developed from 700–1100, characterized by its distinctive religious beliefs and practices and a large growth in population. The period from 1100 to 1300 CE is known as the Great Pueblo Period, and is marked by cooperation between the Pueblo peoples and the communal Great Kiva ritual. The Sandia Pueblo has resided in its current location since the 14th century, when they comprised over 20 pueblos. They were a thriving community, numbering 3,000 at the time of the arrival of Coronado in 1539 (in the Pueblo IV Era).
Spanish conquistador Francisco Vásquez de Coronado "discovered" the Pueblo of Sandia in 1539 while on an expedition to discover the Seven Cities of Cíbola.
In 1610, Fray Esteban de Perea, known as the "Apostle of Sandia", arrived. A descendent of a distinguished Spanish family, he was Guardian, Commissary, and Custodian of the friars in New Mexico, and was responsible for the implementation of the Inquisition in the territories under his authority.
In 1617 the area became home to the seat of the Mission of San Francisco. The Spanish exacted tribute and enslaved members of the Sandia Pueblo people for labor in the building of churches and in Mexican mines. As a result of the resentment against this abuse, the Sandia, who had already offered sanctuary for Zia and Jemez rebels, were one of the pueblos involved in the August 10, 1680 Popé-led Pueblo Revolt against Spanish rule that drove the Spanish from the region until its reconquest by Diego de Vargas in 1692. They did not find freedom, however, as Popé and his successor Luis Tupatu exacted as heavy a tribute as the Spanish and the raiding tribes had. By way of punishment for their insurrection, then governor of the territory, Antonio de Otermin, ordered the village, which by that time had been abandoned, burned on August 26. Having fled to neighboring Hopi lands, the rectory at Sandia was left unprotected and was looted.
The Sandia returned after each Spanish attack, with the 441 surviving Sandia resettling permanently in November 1742. In 1762, Governor Tomas Cachupin ordered the rebuilding of Sandia Pueblo (although his concern was primarily the housing of the Hopi who had found refuge there) as a buffer between the settlement at Albuquerque and the raids of the semi-nomadic Navajo and Apache. As a result, Sandia was raided continuously, the most deadly of such events occurring in 1775 when a Comanche raid killed thirty. The Hopi suffered the brunt of the attack as a result of their segregation from the Sandia, which has minimized their influence in the Pueblo. As a result of wars with Spanish conquistadors and raids from neighboring indigenous nations, the Sandia Pueblo diminished, numbering 350 by 1748, and dwindling to 74 by 1900.
The Sandia are a deeply religious people, and to this day remain very secretive about many aspects of their religion. Early reports discuss devotion to santos, or effigies of saints, a syncretic phenomenon common throughout the Southwest.
Though nominally Catholic, they preserve many of their pre-Catholic traditions. Their feast day, a tradition common to most Pueblo people, is celebrated yearly on June 13, the feast day of St. Anthony. This feast, or fiesta, as it is called, is open to the public. Music and dance are big parts of the ceremony, and it is considered an honor to participate.
Other holy days are closed entirely, and non-Indian residents must leave (sometimes for days at a time) during these ceremonies. Personal feast days are celebrated too, with the tradition of "throwing", when gifts are thrown from rooftops to the recipients below.
The people have a deep connection to the Sandia Mountains, which they refer to as "the Mountain", and think of as their "church." They use the mountain as their official symbol.
In a tradition similar to the saying of grace, Sandia people place a bit of their meal in a receptacle in remembrance and sacrifice.